Fact checking the third Democratic debate

The third Democratic debate, hosted by ABC, is taking place in Houston with
The third Democratic debate, hosted by ABC, is taking place in Houston with 10 candidates on stage. Copyright Elise Wrabetz NBC News; Getty Images
By Jane C. Timm and Adam Edelman and Elizabeth Janowski with NBC News Politics
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Here's what the candidates said that was true, less than true and flat-out false.


For the first time, the 2020 Democratic presidential debate field has been culled to just10 qualifiers, meaning they can compete on a single stage on the same night in Houston on Thursday.

Voters will finallyhave the chance to see front-runners like former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont face off against each other — and we'll be fact-checking all the candidates' statements in real time.

See all the claims, and the facts, below. Check back throughout the night for updates.

Joe Biden claims Bernie Sanders' health care plan would cost twice the federal budget. Is that true?

Drawing a contrast between his health care plan and Sanders' "Medicare for all" plan, Biden said, "My plan for health care costs $740 billion dollars, it doesn't cost $30 trillion dollars. $3.4 trillion a year, turns out, is twice what the entire federal budget is, that's before it exists now, without interest on the debt."

Biden's math is off. While Medicare For All could cost $3.4 trillion a year, according to one estimate, the federal budget is larger: in 2018, the federal budget was $4.1 trillion, including $300 billion going toward interest.

Additionally, Biden's campaign estimates the cost of the candidate's plan at $750 billion over a decade, while estimates have put the cost of Sanders' plan at $32 trillion or more over a decade.

Does Medicare For All costs less than the current system, according to studies?

Sanders, amid a contentious back-and-forth about "Medicare for All" with Biden and Warren, said that "every study done shows that 'Medicare for All' is the most cost-effective approach for providing health care to every man woman and child in this country."

This isn't true. A handful of studies do show Sanders' plan to be a more cost-effective alternative to the current system — but even more indicate the opposite. Sanders' Medicare for All plan would insure an additional 28 million people, so it'd be a huge selling point if it was also cheaper than the current system.

But of five major Medicare for All studies reviewed in detail by The New York Times, just two found overall health care expenditures would be lower than current costs. And what's more, there are sizable variables that could affect the math should his plan be implemented.

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